• Published 3rd May 2012
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The Powers of Harmony - CyborgSamurai



The Mane Six develop the powers of the Elements of Harmony and must use them to stop a new villain.

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Chapter 25: Rivals and Relics

Chapter 25:

Rivals and Relics

The Hollow Shades were once a holy place. Nestled in the heart of a pine forest in northern Equestria, the valley's natural affinity for lunar magic caused the trees to grow to titanic size. So large, in fact, they stretched up to conceal the sun, letting only weak rays filter through and leaving the valley in a state of perpetual twilight. In addition, the land was riddled with a complex system of caves that lead down for miles into the earth. Scholars once flocked to the place to study the effects and application of lunar magic, the most notable of these being Princess Luna herself. She constructed a tower to conduct her experiments, which was later converted into a stronghold during the War of the Sun and Moon. Known as the Tower of Lunacy, it was here that Princess Celestia recovered the Elements of Harmony in the last battle and used them to banish Nightmare Moon.

The raindrops fell with a light pitter-patter as Shining stood at the edge of a muddy slope, beholding what he assumed was the town of Transylmane. Princess Celestia had declared the Hollow Shades forbidden after the war, but a group of scholars convinced her to repeal the decree, and the town was founded shortly after. It didn't surprise Shining that Twilight was here of all places, but if Cetus was going to be searching for her and the other Bearers, there was a high chance this'd be one of the first places she'd look.

What did surprise him, though, was that Transylmane looked like it was under siege. A blood-red forcefield encased the entire settlement, and hastily-made barricades constructed of everything from carts and fence posts to tree trunks and furniture were erected at the entrances. Windows were boarded, doors were reinforced, and the few ponies Shining saw in the streets looked haggard and worn. Just before the town was a grassy field a hundred yards long, whereupon stood two ponies on opposite sides. The first was a unicorn Shining had never seen before, and the other was Twilight. His sister’s mane and tail were matted and unkempt, her coat was pale, her posture was slumped, her eyes were filled with manic yearning as she twitched her head like a bird, and she coughed as she stood shivering in the rain.

Shining sucked in a sharp breath as he beheld Twilight’s appearance. Every single one of his military instructors had told him time and time again that charging headfirst into an unknown scenario is one of the worst things you can do. Those that run blindly into battle are the first to fall, and brashness can cost somepony their life in a delicate situation. When presented with the unknown, a good soldier will always step back, assess the predicament, identify the surroundings, weigh their options, then take the best course of action.

Shining knew all of this. He'd known this procedure for years, had practiced it dozens of times of dozens of encounters and scenarios, and because of it, he'd managed to avoid several fights and other undesirable outcomes. Yet upon seeing his only sibling, miserable, sickly, alone, and about to duel against a completely healthy opponent, his mind blanked, and he growled out a very simple statement.

“No one picks on my little sister.”

Shining focused on the middle of the field, intending to teleport there, but found that his magic was foiled by some strange, unknown force. That alone should've been cause for hesitation, but Shining wasn't in the mood to analyze. He put the Crown of Magic inside his robes, then jumped onto the slippery dirt slope, going into a crouch and sliding down the hill. He picked up speed as he descended, taking care to dodge a few rocks sticking out here and there.

The duel began. Twilight's opponent fired a drab violet ray that spun like a corkscrew, but Twilight teleported away, re-appearing to the right of her foe. Her horn flashed, and there was a hissing sound as the ground beneath around them gained a thick layer of ice. Twilight's opponent was caught off guard, and she slipped and fell to her knees.

Shining furrowed his brow. It appeared that Blair had been giving Twilight some lessons. He looked over at the guard in question, who was standing at the other edge of the field with Piro and Ace. Blair was wearing his silver Battlemage robe, Piro was wearing a pair of bulging saddlebags with crosses on them, and Ace wore a chain shirt along with a quartet of longswords that hung at his sides. Their manes and tails were unkempt, and their eyes held a steely glint as they looked on from the sidelines. Why weren't they helping? Their job was to protect Twilight, not stand by and watch as she dueled other Mages!

Twilight prepared to cast another spell, but her opponent's outline flickered. Her eyes widened, and she teleported away just in time to avoid being hit by a series of red swirling bolts from behind. Twilight's opponent reappeared, her horn and eyes both glowing cherry-red as the amulet around her neck thrummed with power.

If Shining had been thinking clearly, he might've thought it strange that his sister was able to teleport, while he could not. Alas, the thought didn't register with him. He was now moving at an impressive clip down the slope, and after a few more seconds, he judged that he was now within earshot of his fellow guards.

“LIEUTENANT!”

Blair jumped at the familiar voice. He looked, and saw Shining sliding down the hill towards him, not looking even the slightest bit happy about what he saw.

Blair's lips parted. “...Captain?”

“STOP THIS DUEL, NOW!”

Piro and Ace reared and waved their forehooves at Shining, shouting something at the top of their lungs, but he didn’t bother to hear what they were saying. If these three were going to try and make up some kind of pathetic excuse for letting Twilight fight somepony alone, they had another thing c—

Shining had an instant to be surprised before his mind was blanked by a massive shock running through his body. The air crackled and pulsed with lances of multicolored electricity, and a current of unknown magic ripped and tore at him. His momentum carried him mercifully on, but he lost his balance and was sent tumbling down the rest of the hill. His robes and coat became plastered with mud, and he landed face-first in a puddle with a splat.

The guards stood still for a moment, staring open-mouthed at the spectacle, torn between confusion, horror, and amusement. Ace was the one who finally managed to break the silence.

“He got through?”

“So it is one-way,” Blair said.

“Damn it!” Piro galloped over to Shining, who was still lying on the ground. “Captain! Don't move!”

Shining was all too happy to oblige. The world was spinning, and lights flashed in his eyes. His normally white coat was now an earthy brown, and he groaned as Piro got to him and began sweeping his horn over his body.

“What in Celestia's name was that...” Shining said.

“What we were trying to warn you about.” Piro looked up at where Shining had entered, which was still shimmering with a faint coloration before fading away. “Good to see you, Captain. As always, you know how to make an entrance.”

Meanwhile, Twilight was chanting an incantation through clenched teeth when she saw her guards run off. She turned to look, but as she did, a twisting pattern of subtle, shifting colors appeared before her eyes. She gagged and looked away, shouting out to her opponent as she did.

“Hold on!” Twilight said. “My friends just went off—“

“Trixie cares not for your allies!” Trixie was standing to Twilight's left, holding a long silk rope in her magic. “Trixie cares only for victory!”

The rope shot forward. Twilight willed her stomach to stop rolling, and finished her incantation. A shimmering screen of violet energy appeared before her, and the rope passed through, falling limply to the ground as the magic animating it was dispelled.

Twilight coughed and managed a smirk. “Trixie's going to be disappointed, then.”

“Are you all right, sir?” Blair asked. Both he and Ace were standing at attention and saluting as Piro helped Shining to his hooves. His body was still tingling, much like when he'd been struck by lightning by Cetus.

“I've been better.” Shining looked over at Twilight, who had now turned the rain into snowballs and was flinging them at her opponent. “Blair, might I ask why you're allowing my sister to duel in her current state?”

Blair opened his mouth to reply, but Piro cut him off. “Twilight's condition is only going to get worse the longer we stay here, sir. Her opponent's name is Trixie, and we believe she has something to do with the magic trapping us here. The goal of the duel is only to incapacitate, and Twilight is dueling her in order to enlist her cooperation so that we may escape before Cetus and Eclipse locate us.”

There was a faint buzzing sound, and the air around Trixie began to vibrate. Twilight's snowballs veered off course, flying away in all directions and splattering to the ground. Trixie tried to get around Twilight's Dispelling Screen by teleporting, but Twilight simply turned to face her again, the screen staying directly in front of her as she moved.

Shining blinked as he processed what Piro said. He looked at each of the guards in turn.

“You... know about Cetus? How—”

Blair tapped the side of his head. “Our host informed us of the events in Canterlot and Ponyville last night. He knows where the other Bearers have been sent, but he's chosen to keep that information to himself.”

“For their safety,” Ace added. “If Cetus absorbs any of us, she'll know where they are, too.”

Trixie's outline flickered again, and several duplicates sprang out from where she stood, spreading out to encircle Twilight. Twilight tried to teleport away, but before she could, one of Trixie's duplicates shot a fireball at her from the side.

“Your sister is aware of what's happened, as well,” Blair continued. “It's true that she's ill, but as Piro said, the only cure is to get her out of this blasted place. I voiced my concerns about directly confronting Trixie, but Piro and Ace insisted it was the best thing to do.”

Piro and Ace exchanged a glance. Ace jerked his head at Blair, but Piro shook his head. They both looked away before either Blair or Shining noticed.

Shining rubbed his head, ignoring the mud seeping down his face. It was clear there was a lot going on here, and he wasn't going to get anywhere without understanding the context. A semblance of calm returned to him as he took a deep breath, and met Blair's eyes with a calm, calculated gaze.

“Brief me in on the situation.”

Twilight turned her Dispelling Screen to intercept the fireball, but it was a fake. The real Trixie threw a small dart at Twilight from her left, but before it could hit, four walls of smooth, unbroken ice materialized around Twilight, deflecting the dart and shielding her from view.

Blair straightened and spoke in a clear voice. “We left Ponyville ten days ago. In that time, we told Twilight of our origins, made a brief stop at Neighgra Falls, then went to the base of the Foal Mountains to give her a safe environment to experiment with her growing magic and Absorption power.”

“How'd that go?” Shining asked.

Blair's gaze shifted to the side. “Twilight's had more than enough experience with control, so we focused on making her comfortable with using more powerful spells. As you know, those of the Evocation school take the most energy to cast, but as your sister's studies have been purely academic, she'd never cast any before.”

Trixie and her mirror images laughed at Twilight's obstruction. Their horns glowed, and a loud ringing noise sounded out that rose to a powerful crescendo. The walls of ice vibrated and cracked, but before they could break, there was a violet flash from within. The walls of ice melted into walls of water, which then rushed out in all directions. Trixie's mirror images vanished in the waves, and the real Trixie yelped as she was swept down the field.

“That doesn't seem to be the case anymore,” Shining observed.

“Yes, sir,” Blair agreed. “Pardon the analogy, but we decided to 'kill two birds with one stone,' and have her absorb some spells from us. Princess Celestia told me in her original briefing that Twilight's desire to acquire more spells will increase if she learns more than a few a day, so we limited it to three.”

Trixie coughed and spluttered as she was washed away. She kept her head above water long enough to chant something, and the ground beneath her rose up in a stone pillar, lifting her out of the water and several feet into the air. Her eyes flashed red again, and she sagged as she clutched the amulet around her neck with a whimper. Her hoof strayed to the inside of her robes, grasping at something inside. She regained her composure after a few deep breaths, and resumed like nothing had happened.

Shining raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying my sister has learned thirty new spells in ten days?”

“Twenty-two,” Blair corrected. “She learned four on accident when she fully recovered on the first day, and hasn't learned any new ones since we arrived in the Hollow Shades three days ago. Piro and Ace have contributed a few here and there, but most of them are from me.”

“You hear that, Ace?” Piro nudged his shoulder. “We're helpers!”

Ace rolled his eyes. “Huzzah.”

Trixie looked around for Twilight, but didn't see her, so she began to cast another spell. As she did, a watery whip crept up from behind, wrapped around one of her hooves, and plucked her off the pillar to hover in midair. A portion of the whip broke away, and Twilight's upper body formed, staring at Trixie with a hungry look in her eyes.

Shining felt an enormous swell of sibling pride, but managed to keep a straight face. “Twenty-two spells in seven days is quite the accomplishment.”

“With all due respect, sir, it's frightening.” Ace sat on his haunches. “At the rate of three spells a day, Twilight can learn twenty-one spells a week, ninety spells a month, one thousand ninety-five spells a year. At that rate alone, she has the potential to learn more spells in her lifetime than there are currently in existence.”

Trixie met Twilight's eyes with a sneer. She sucked in a breath, and spoke a single, powerful word that struck Twilight like a physical blow. Twilight screamed and melted back into the water, releasing Trixie and disappearing again.

Shining lowered his eyes. “I spoke with Princess Luna about that. She told me that while the desire for knowledge, or ‘thirst,' as she called it, is always there, it can be satiated for long periods of time by creating new spells, instead of learning old ones. She said that creating one new spell a year was enough for her, but Twilight might need to do more since the Element of Magic is physically residing inside her.”

The swell of pride turned into a tsunami. Shining's face broke into a huge grin, his military facade falling away as he beamed at his sibling.

“Either way, Mom's gonna freak.”

The water had now subsided, leaving the field a sodden, soggy mess. Trixie teleported back onto the pillar, and there was a loud cracking sound as a long whip of blue force appeared in her outstretched hoof. She snapped it several times above the ground, making a terrible, cacophonous din, and a puddle of water suddenly sprung to life and fled down the field. Trixie burst out into riotous laughter as she watched it run away.

Blair ran a hoof through his mane. “Twilight was able to perform all the spells she absorbed from us without effort, and wasn't showing any signs of Magical Fatigue, so we decided to continue until she did. She cast spell after spell, but what we quickly discovered was that the Element of Magic replenishes her font at a phenomenal rate.”

“While it’s active, anyway,” Piro cut in. “Twilight’s power is measured by two things: The size of her font, and her Element's ability to replenish it. We got her to go into Magical Fatigue after about an hour of her chain-casting Blair's higher level ice spells, but she only needed a few minutes of rest before she was ready to go again. It’s not infinite magic, per se, but it’s as close as you’re ever gonna get.”

The blob of water extended out another tendril, stretching it out to cover half the length of the field. The edge of the water glittered as it swung around wildly, slicing Trixie’s pillar to pieces. Trixie abandoned it and landed roughly on the ground, dodging the chunks of rock falling around her as she rolled away.

“So then,” Shining said. “What brought you all here? And why are you dressed for combat? Is it in case Cetus or Eclipse comes?”

“Not completely,” Blair replied. “To start, Twilight's been curious about this place ever since we told her about our origins. When she realized it was nearby, she requested—“

Piro let out a cough that suspiciously sounded like 'demanded.'

Blair was undeterred. “That we take her to see it. We arrived three days ago, and things were fine until—“

The blob of water came speeding towards them. It stopped a dozen feet away from them, then reverted back into Twilight, who stared directly at them with cloudy, unfocused eyes. She swore, then raised a glowing hoof and traced out a complex symbol in the air. The symbol hovered in place for a moment, then shone a pulse of light into Twilight's eyes, which caused her to recoil as her vision slowly returned.

Twilight let out a loud hacking cough. “That was cheap. Can't, ugh... can't get close again....“

“Twily.”

Twilight waved a dismissive hoof at Shining and turned back to Trixie. “Not now, I'm in the middle of—”

Twilight stiffened as the nicknamed registered. She slowly turned back around, her eyes going wide as she recognized the muddy newcomer.

Shining?!”

Shining smiled. “Hi.”

Twilight stammered as her brother walked towards her, her brain doing somersaults as she tried to grasp the implications of his presence. Shining reached out to her, but as he did, a series of silver strings struck Twilight from behind, attaching themselves to her joints and yanking her back several feet.

“Ack!”

The source of the strings was Trixie, who had moved to the center of the field.

“Get back here, Twilight Sparkle!” Trixie gave the strings another tug. “Trixie's not done with you yet!”

Twilight gritted her teeth, and a tiny red ball appeared on the end of her horn. She tossed back her head, and the ball flew back behind her in an arc, landing on the ground in front of Trixie.

“Oh.” Piro recognized one of the spells he'd given Twilight. “Um... guys? Might wanna shut your eyes.”

The ball exploded with a blinding flash. Trixie shrieked and lost her spell, freeing Twilight and staggering away. She pulled out a small black ball from her robes and threw it on the ground, causing a thick cloud of coiling vapor to rise up and obscure everypony's vision.

Twilight coughed as she waved away the mist. It cleared away after a few seconds, but it was too late; Trixie was nowhere to be found. Twilight flattened her ears and looked around, but she moved her head too quickly, and was struck by another wave of nausea. Her knees gave out as she retched, but before she could fall, a strong pair of hooves reached out and caught her.

“Whoa, there.”

Shining stood next to Twilight as he held her steady. His face was dirty, but his eyes were clear as he gently brushed her mane out of her eyes. Conflicting emotions arose within Twilight, tearing her thoughts to pieces as she decided how best to deal with her brother. Finally, she stood up, backed away from him, and took in a huge breath.

“HigoodtoseeyoubusynowhavetotalklaterBlaircantellyouwhat'sgoingonandgowashyourselfoffyou'refilthy.”

Twilight teleported away. Shining blinked once, shrugged, then wiped his face off with his robe and turned back to Blair and the others.

“You were saying?”

Blair scrunched his eyebrows. “Did you understand that?”

Shining chuckled. “I'm fluent in Twilight-ese.”

Twilight reappeared in the center of the field, looking around for Trixie. The first thought was to use Truesight to sniff her out, but she didn't want to make herself sicker than she already was. She wanted to end this, but her opponent was going to hide until she thought she had an advantage. A bigger spell might force Trixie out of hiding, but it might also hurt her, and as tempting as it was, Twilight didn't actually want that.

“Come on out, Trixie!” Twilight called. “Or do you admit that your pathetic little Alicorn Amulet is no match for the Element of Magic?!”

The air erupted with a scream. Twilight winced as the vicious noise ravaged her eardrums, but she muttered out a quick spell, and the air around her vibrated with a low dissonance. The screaming died out, and Trixie appeared a short ways away, her eyes streaked with red as she stormed towards Twilight.

“The only thing Trixie will admit is that Twilight Sparkle is a fraud who relies on the power of ancient relics instead of her own natural talent!”

Blair cleared his throat. “As I was saying, things were fine until three days ago, which was when the barrier appeared. The sky suddenly darkened, there was a crackling sound, and a multicolored thickness settled above the entire valley like a dome. Anything that tries to leave is violently rejected, though as you demonstrated, sir, the blockage only goes one way.”

Piro sighed. “We’ve been trapped here ever since. We’ve been working over the last few days to try and figure out how to break through it, but our progress has been hampered by a few... complications.”

Shining noted the apprehension in Piro’s voice, noting that his gaze kept flicking over to Blair.

“Such as?”

Twilight waved her hooves at Trixie from within her shield, sticking out her tongue and blowing a raspberry. Trixie lowered her chin dangerously as she bared her teeth in a snarl.

“Trixie hates ponies like you. Spoiled, self-absorbed, narcissistic nobles, groomed for success and acting like a bunch of primped and pampered porcelain dolls! Have you ever suffered, Twilight Sparkle?! Do you know what it’s like be mocked and shunned by your peers? Have you ever been looked down on for no reason other than your lineage? Who are you to think you’re better than Trixie?! Who is anyone to convict a child for the sins of their parents?!”

Twilight gestured once to her ears, then to the barrier around her. Trixie recognized the spell as a Zone of Silence, and she let out a scream of rage.

“TRIXIE WILL BREAK YOU!” The Alicorn Amulet glowed ominously as it shot out violent bolts of energy. “Trixie’s going to savor the look on your face as you taste failure and despair, and your anguished sobs will be the sweetest lullaby to her ears!”

“Twilight’s become extremely sensitive to magic due to her Element fully recovering,” Blair explained. “She can pick up all kinds of information about a spell just from being in the vicinity of it, such as when it was cast, how it functions, the amount of energy put into it, how long it’s going to last, even the magical signature of the original caster.”

“Which is how we found out that this barrier was made by Nightmare Moon herself over one thousand years ago to serve as a kind of security system,” Piro said. “Its function is to keep all individuals who haven’t been affected by her Undying Loyalty power trapped inside. Twilight can sense the magic, and because it’s reeking with corruption, it’s making her physically ill.”

The ground rumbled as Trixie stamped her hoof. The rock cracked and heaved, and Twilight lost her footing as she was dumped her into a shallow hole and buried waist-deep in rubble. Trixie hissed out several words, and there was the telltale click of a Dimensional Lock. Trixie stepped inside Twilight’s Zone of Silence, and then summoned something unexpected—an ornate violin with a black and white spiral pattern etched on its body.

“At least that’s all it’s doing.” Ace exhaled out his nose. “We thought at first she was going to go insane and be turned into one of Nightmare Moon’s minions, but it’s either more complicated than that, or she’s resisting it somehow. In either case, it’s not good for Twilight to be here much longer, or us either, for that matter.”

Shining saw Ace’s eyes flick over to Blair, just like Piro’s had. It was obvious something was going on between the Echoes, but Shining decided to let it pass for now, as he wanted to address more pressing matters.

“What happens if Twilight activates the Element of Magic?” Shining asked.

Blair cringed. “Her symptoms worsen greatly. She tried using her Absorption power on the first day to see if she could figure out how the barrier worked, and it made her vomit and pass out. She hasn’t used it since.”

Twilight gasped as she saw the instrument. She tried to teleport away, but Trixie’s lock held her fast. She pushed against the rocks, but couldn’t get free. Her mind whirred with what spell to use, but before she could choose, Trixie set the bow to the strings, and played out a beautiful, haunting melody.

Shining looked over at Twilight. He jolted as he saw her trapped, but then noticed the slight distortion in the air a dozen feet away from Trixie. He grinned, then turned his back to the duel and lowered his voice to a whisper.

“Did you tell her she has Earth Pony magic now, too?”

Piro gave a lopsided smirk. “We actually forgot about that at first. It wasn't until we were in the Foal Mountains that we remembered and told her. Geomancy's extremely subtle, and she looks physically the same, though I did give her an examination, and noticed her body's undergone several internal changes, most notably to her immune system.”

“I still say she's grown about an inch,” Ace said.

“And I still say you're delusional,” Piro replied smoothly.

Blair raised his eyes to the sky. “Twilight was surprised, to say in the least, but what with everything else that's been going on, she hasn't had much time to dwell on it. She's looking forward to getting wings, but in all honesty, that's the last thing she needs right now. Her sensitivity will double when she gets her neckla—er, big crown... thingy, and she's barely hanging on as it is.”

Twilight’s struggling slowly ceased as she heard the music. Her eyelids fluttered, and she slumped as she fell into an enchanted slumber. Her face contorted in a series of emotions, starting at joy, then surprise, and then quickly turning to horror as a brutal nightmare ravaged her psyche. She screamed, but Trixie’s music kept her under, tormenting her further as she continued to play.

Shining clucked his tongue, looking down at the ground for a moment. He then reached into his robes, slowly pulling out the Crown of Magic to show to the guards.

“So you're saying I shouldn't give this to her, then.”

Three jaws dropped. The guards gaped at the Crown for several seconds before Blair managed out a whisper.

“How...”

“Princess Luna.” Shining placed the Crown back in his robes. “This is a direct order—do not, under any circumstance, let ANYONE know I have this in my possession, not even my sister. I'll let her know myself once we've gotten out of this place. Understood?”

The guards spoke as one. “Yes, sir.”

Trixie laughed as she looked down at Twilight, who was still in the thrall of her spell. She was about to declare victory, but that’s when she noticed that Twilight’s body was becoming... transparent. A second later, ‘Twilight’ had dissolved into a puddle, leaving Trixie alone in the Zone.

“Water Clone,” Trixie spat. She tried to move away, but as she did, several rubbery black tentacles sprouted out from the ground, entwining themselves around her and pinning her to the ground with a splurch.

Shining flicked a piece of mud out of his mane. “Now then, about our current situation. From what you've told me, I can gather we're trapped inside an Inverted Type-S Environmental Condition Barrier. Impressive, to be sure, but not impregnable. There are three options of escape available to us: The first is to break it by generating a force greater than, or equal to the power maintaining it, but if we don't have enough, the magic'll rebound on us and turn us into crispy critters. The second is to bypass it by meeting or tricking its conditions, but copying the magical signature of an ancient corrupted relic in any way, shape or form sounds both equally difficult and insane. The third and most plausible option would be to find the barrier's source of power and disable it. The spell may have originally been made by Nightmare Moon, but if it only came into effect three days ago, it was most likely placed in a focus and given a trigger of some kind. It must've been set off by an external source, and depending on whether its activation was accidental or not, that may produce a completely new set of problems. A Type-S can only be maintained from the inside, and the focus needs to be near the point of diffusion, which is to say, the center. So, in order to disable the barrier, we need to travel to the heart of the Hollow Shades, locate the focus that's powering the spell, and destroy it.”

Ace facehooved as he looked over at Piro and Blair.

“He just figured out in a few minutes what we've been arguing about for the last two days.”

“You’re surprised?” Piro snickered. “Come on, can't you see the family resemblance?”

Blair kept his attention on Shining. “We came to a similar conclusion last night. We've been making plans to travel to the center of the valley since then.”

“And those plans somehow involve my sister dueling a rambling, shrieking Magus who speaks in the third person.” Shining scratched his chin. “Do tell.”

Trixie was now caught in the Zone of Silence and her own Dimensional Lock, and as she struggled, the temperature began to drop around her. She shivered and looked up, and saw that a small black cloud had formed directly above her. The rain turned into driving sleet, and it hammered down on her as it completely obscured her vision. Twilight appeared thirty feet away, panting as she continued her assault.

“So a few ponies making fun of you... gives you the right to be mean and nasty... to everypony else?!” Twilight shook her head. “That's quite possibly the stupidest thing... I've ever heard. I never wanted special treatment... I wanted to be left alone with my studies... and my friends. You've no right to judge me... any more than anypony else... has the right to judge you! Maybe... instead of projecting your problems onto others... you should practice what you preach!”

Piro raised a hoof. “Trixie's an unregistered Illusionist who arrived in Transylmane a week before us. According to the locals, she presented herself as a traveling performer, and did a few shows in town before disappearing for a few days. Nopony knows where she went, but when she returned, she was wearing the amulet you see now.”

“Which is what, exactly?” Shining asked.

Blair snorted. “Trixie claims it's the Alicorn Amulet, but we’re not sure if she’s telling the truth or not.”

Shining hesitated. That name rang a bell, but he couldn’t recall where he’d heard it before. He chewed on his lip as he searched his memory.

Trixie's body was going numb as the sleet continued to pound her. She knew she was in a bad spot, but she'd never been one to give up so easily. Losing meant admitting they were right, that she really was nothing but a second-rate failure doomed to follow in the hoofsteps of those who came before her. Never mind that Trixie had power, talent, charisma, and the motivation to make something of herself, she'd never amount to anything because others simply said so. Trixie would prove them wrong. She was meant for great things, and if she had to take a few risks along the way to get where she was meant to be, she was willing to pay the price.

The Alicorn Amulet pulsed as Trixie raised her head. She couldn't see Twilight through the sleet, but she knew she was there, probably laughing at her like everyone else did.

“Don't... look down... on Trixie...”

Blair suppressed a grin as he recognized the same look on Shining that Twilight always got when she was trying to remember something. “The Alicorn Amulet is a relic from the War of the Sun and Moon. It originally belonged to Mephis the Flayer, second-in-command of Nightmare Moon and leader of the Astral Guard. It grants the wearer incredible magical power, but at the cost of poisoning their minds and bodies, slowly turning them into one of Nightmare Moon’s demonic minions.”

Ace’s eyes took on a dark glint. “Tendoncutter took it from Mephis early on in the war. He put it on mid-battle not knowing what it was, and then tried to use a spell. The Amulet drove him into a manic frenzy, and he chopped an entire company of Nightmare Moon’s soldiers to bite-sized bits before the rest of the Order managed to get it away from him. Unfortunately, though, it then fell into the ranks of Celestia’s soldiers.”

“Where it wrought absolute havoc,” Piro muttered. “Anypony who got the Amulet lost their minds, and started slaying friend and foe alike. The Astral Guard broke through our ranks from the resulting chaos, and dozens were killed before we could drive them back. The Amulet was then recovered by Nightmare Moon’s forces, but Mephis never wore it after that. Nightmare Moon kept it inside the Tower of Lunacy, where it’s been ever since.”

Trixie's eyes flickered red as she tried breaking free of the tentacles with telekinesis, but the spell was impressively strong. She was pushed back down with greater force, and her mind became cloudy as the sleet continued to rain down.

“More,” Trixie whispered.

“Which is why the thing Trixie’s wearing can’t be the Alicorn Amulet,” Blair said with finality. “The only thing that can purify Nightmare Moon’s corruption is the Elements of Harmony, and while Trixie may be an arrogant, cocky loudmouth with a short fuse, she’s not a bloodthirsty murderer. There has to be some other explanation.”

Piro's voice turned venomous. “Don't mind Blair, Captain. He just can't admit there might be a solution to something that doesn't involve using forbidden magic.”

Blair's face reddened. “Celestia forbid you actually have to make a hard decision by yourself, Piro. Be grateful you've somepony to plunge their hooves into the filth for you.”

“Here they go again,” Ace groaned.

Trixie’s magical font felt like acid as it became filled with fell power. She pushed again, feeling the tentacles start to give, but they then snapped down even harder, crushing her against the ground. Twilight was straining outside, pouring more and more magic into the spell to keep Trixie contained.

“More!” Trixie said.

“Can it, you two,” Shining snapped. “Duke out your millennium-old grudge match some other time. Ace, tell me why Twilight's dueling against Trixie.”

“Because we think Trixie’s the one who activated the barrier.” Ace rested a hoof on one of his swords. “She denies it, but if the thing she’s wearing really is the Alicorn Amulet, there's no question on where she's been. Trixie entered Transylmane from the direction of the center of the valley when the barrier went up, and Twilight says that the magic that’s emanating from the amulet is similar to the barrier’s, which is why she can’t be around her for very long. It all adds up, and I really don’t know why these two are trying to make more problems when we've more than enough on our plates.”

The Amulet’s glow could now be seen from within the sleet storm. The tentacles snapped as Trixie pushed as hard as she could, but more reformed and kept holding her down. The air inside the Zone of Silence was filled with a sizzling sound as the new tentacles came in contact with Trixie's body, which was covered in a sanguine light. Twilight was flagging, fighting to stay on her hooves as she desperately tried to keep hold of her spell, but she couldn’t keep this up for much longer.

"MORE!" Trixie screamed.

Piro and Blair stared at their hooves as they shuffled back and forth. Shining ignored them and continued. “So Twilight is dueling Trixie in order to enlist her cooperation?”

“Pretty much,” Ace said. “They’ve been butting heads ever since they met, so Twilight decided to use Trixie’s pride against her to make her agree to take us to the Tower. Twilight had to agree to a pretty ridiculous stipulation if she loses, but it’s not like there’s any chance of that hap—“

Twilight’s Zone of Silence exploded with a crack. The sleet storm dissipated, and Twilight was thrown back to the edge of the field. Trixie stepped out, her eyes glowing a sickly red as the Alicorn Amulet filled her magical font to the brim with Chaos magic. Her gaze landed on Twilight, who was struggling to get back to her hooves.

“Trixie will make you pay.” Her voice was distorted and gravelly. “No...Trixie will make you bleed. You and the rest of the high-class snobs will be the first to fall, but they certainly won’t be the last.”

The grass wilted and died around Trixie as she prepared a new spell and aimed it at Twilight. Shining and the guards recognized the telltale signs of death magic, and ran at her to intercept.

“Yes, come to Trixie,” Trixie poured more energy into the spell, paying no heed to the coiling darkness forming around her. “All those who oppose Trixie must be eliminated. Trixie will remake this world in her image, one of a glorious Eternal Night, and your corpses will—”

Trixie’s eyes widened as realized what she’d just said.

“NO!” Trixie stepped back, reaching inside her robes again and pushing something hard against her chest. “KEEP YOUR POISONOUS WHISPERS TO YOURSELF!”

Trixie tried to cut off her spell, but it was too powerful. She jerked her head to the side instead, shooting off a black ray from her horn that struck the barrier and spread outwards in multicolored ripples that traveled all the way to the ground.

Shining and the guards stopped as Trixie’s movement’s suddenly became erratic. The Alicorn Amulet blazed with chaotic light, but Trixie didn’t give in. She staggered back and forth like she was drunk, then ran to a nearby tree and started smashing her head against it.

“What in Celestia’s name is she doing?!” Shining demanded.

Blair’s jaw was slack. “It’s not possible...”

“Does this mean I get to say I told you so?” Piro asked.

“Shut up, Piro,” Ace snapped.

“TRIXIE... SERVES... NOPONY!” The air became filled with dull thunks as Trixie screamed out her defiance. "GET OUT... GET OUT... GET OUT!"

The sickly light dimmed, the darkness around Trixie faded, and her eyes spun in their sockets as she woozily stepped back. She tried to focus on Twilight, but her strength had now left her.

“Trixie is the master..." Trixie fell to her knees, and her vision faded to black. “Trixie can control... Trixie can... go on...”

Trixie passed out. Her Dimensional Lock went out, and the red forcefield around Transylmane faded. The air became filled with screams of panic as the townsfolk fled into their homes, and Piro immediately teleported over to her.

“That’s not good.” Ace loosened his swords in their sheaths.

“You think?!” The chill around Blair deepened as he summoned a fragmented sword of ice. “Why do you think I was against this in the first place?!”

“What’s going on?” Shining asked.

Blair turned to Shining and spoke in a fast voice. “Can you make a forcefield like the one Trixie just had over the whole town?”

Shining closed his eyes in reply. Five seconds later, the air around Transylmane thickened, and a shining violet barrier coalesced around the town.

Ace whistled. “That simplifies things.”

Shining squared his shoulders. “That Repulsion Field will block out anything short of a rampaging Ursa Major. Now, answer my question.”

“You just answered it yourself.”

Twilight had walked up to them from behind, her nausea lessening upon seeing magic that wasn’t tainted with the essence of Chaos. “Weren’t you paying attention to Professor Dittany’s lectures back at CSGU? ”

Shining turned to her. “What are you—”

The earth shook with an ominous rumble, and a shudder went through colossal pines. The hairs on Shining’s neck stood on end as the words of a tottering old stallion suddenly echoed in his mind.

“While it’s well known that the lunar magics of the Hollow Shades have affected the flora in odd ways, what’s less known is that generations of consuming the magically-saturated plants have altered the size, fortitude, magical resistance, and mentality of the local fauna. These changes have become so drastic, that the animals are now classified into an entirely separate genus, and have been the source of studies of biologists for the last two hundred years. Known as Star Beasts, these colossal counterparts largely dwell in the cave systems beneath the Hollow Shades, and spend most of their time in hibernation. Most of the species are docile, but a few notable exceptions, such as the infamous Ursa Major, have been known to raze entire towns in a span of minutes when angered...”

There was a high-pitched howl, followed by the squawks of several birds, then a yammering of various other creatures. Everypony went still at the noise, then looked to the south. The rain continued to fall in a steady drizzle among the titanic trees, but there was nothing else to be seen among the foggy, twilit haze.

Twilight took a step back. “They’re coming...”

“Sir,” Blair said to Shining. “I recommend that we retreat to Transylmane. The Star Beasts have become extremely violent since the barrier appeared, and their numbers are—”

The mist glittered, and an assortment of giant animals appeared between the trees: Dogs, goats, lizards, foxes, rams, bulls, birds of various types, and even a few aquatic beasts that swam gracefully through the air. Their translucent bodies were colored with all the shades of the night sky, and their eyes burned with chaotic fury as they walked closer to Shining and the others.

Blair gulped. “Considerable.”

Shining bit his lip as he watched the celestial creatures emerge from the fog. “Can you kill them all with your addiction, Blair?”

Blair’s eyes darkened. “Only Piro can undo the Lifesealing Ritual, and he’s already said he'll only do it unless there's no other way.”

Shining wasn’t happy to hear that, but then he reconsidered. It’d be unbelievably dangerous to have Blair undo his seal, and with Twilight and other civilians here, it wasn’t worth the risk. Besides, the paperwork he’d have to fill out to explain why the Star Beasts had been suddenly driven to extinction would trap him behind a desk for months.

“Then we’ll explore our other options before resorting to mass genocide.” Shining met eyes with Piro as he approached with Trixie. “Within reason.”

Piro didn’t flinch. “Whenever you’re ready, Captain, preferably before the rampaging horde over there gets to us.”

Shining narrowed his eyes, but acquiesced. He programmed the barrier to allow them passage, then teleported them to Transylmane in a magenta flash.

Author's Note:

The Powers of Harmony now has a group here on fimfiction!

TPOH-Verse

This group can be whatever you guys want it to be. Right now, it's a place for people to discuss the story instead of having to sort through comments in different chapters. If you want it to be something more, we'll see what we can do.